Home Health Acne Blackheads


Blackheads, or open comedones, are a minor form of acne that is easily treated and rarely causes long-term harm to skin. If over-the-counter blackhead treatments don’t effectively treat them, consult with a dermatologist. Some OTC treatments and home remedies can irritate skin and actually worsen acne.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Are Blackheads?

Blackheads, also called comedones, are small, dark spots on the skin that occur when the opening of a pore, or follicle, becomes blocked. They are a type of acne, but they aren’t pimples. Blackheads are primarily located on the back, chest, face and nose, but they can appear less commonly in places such as armpits, thighs and ears.

This skin condition is most common in young adults and teenagers, affecting about 85% of this group, but can affect all ages. Doctors associate teen acne with hormonal changes.

Blackhead Symptoms and Causes

Blackheads occur when a clog, or plug, develops in a pore. Each follicle has sebaceous glands that produce oil, called sebum. Oil and dead skin cells can accumulate around a pore, resulting in bumps.

If a bump remains closed, it’s called a whitehead. But when the node gets exposed to the air, the contents oxidize, turning them black.

Blackheads are less painful and more manageable than other forms of acne, such as cystic acne. Symptoms include:

  • Irritation
  • Enlarged pores
  • Tiny dark bumps on skin
  • Black to yellow color

Hormone changes can cause what’s known as hormonal acne, especially in teens. Acne can also appear during menstruation or or because of certain types of hormonal contraception. Some drugs, such as androgens, corticosteroids and lithium, may cause blackheads.

Researchers also hypothesize that consuming milk, especially cow’s milk, and highly glycemic foods may stimulate the formation of whiteheads and blackheads.

Blackhead Treatment

Most people can treat blackheads at home with medications readily available at grocery stores, drugstores and online. Over-the-counter blackhead treatments are available in pad, gel and cream form, all of which you can apply directly to your skin.

If OTC drugs don’t improve your skin condition, a dermatologist may suggest more potent prescription medications such as tretinoin, adapalene or tazarotene, but these are typically only required in severe cases.

Blackhead medications include:
  • Salicylic acid
  • Azelaic acid
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Retinoids
  • Prescription retinoids
  • Oral antibiotics

Your dermatologist or esthetician may use a specialized tool to remove blackheads manually. There are also other procedures that can be done, including:

  • Chemical peels
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Laser skin resurfacing
  • Light therapy

Underlying conditions such as rosacea or eczema can make blackhead treatment more complicated, although medication isn’t always necessary. Your primary care provider or dermatologist can create an effective treatment plan for you.

Blackhead Home Remedies

Overusing over-the-counter medications, such as chemical peels, can increase skin irritation, and some home skin care regimens can also exacerbate matters. It helps if you know you have a skin sensitivity or allergy to particular skin care ingredients.

Among the many home remedies people often try are:

  • A paste of lemon and water
  • Egg whites mixed with honey
  • A blend of ingredients that include turmeric

None of the recipes often shared on blogs or social media guarantee an improvement to your acne. Also, it’s important to remember that home and natural remedies often are not FDA approved and may irritate your skin, making outbreaks worse. Consult your dermatologist before trying home remedies.

If over-the-counter drugs or home remedies aren’t helping with blackheads, consulting a dermatologist is a wise next step. Dermatologists are qualified specialists who deal with skin issues. Seeing a professional will afford you a medically approved solution tailored to suit your skin.

Should You Squeeze Blackheads?

Blackheads can be bothersome and tempting to squeeze but try to avoid the urge to express them yourself. Dermatologists advise against popping pimples of any kind because it could leave you with acne scars.

Squeezing blackheads can spread pus and bacteria from the infected pore to surrounding areas and can delay the natural healing process. You could also accidentally push bacteria and pus further under your skin, leading to more inflammation or a more extensive outbreak.

Blackhead Prevention

While myths persist that acne is the result of poor personal hygiene, blackheads are not caused by unclean skin. Gentle cleansing of the skin at least twice a day may help resolve them, however. Overwashing, aggressive scrubbing or harsh cleansers may irritate skin rather than help it. A healthy skin care routine should minimize redness and irritation.

Avoid products that can clog hair follicles. Most products today are noncomedogenic. Reading ingredient labels can help you choose products that are less likely to clog pores.

Maintaining overall health can benefit skin as well. Avoid smoking, wear sunscreen, be sure to get enough sleep and eat a balanced diet rich in vital nutrients. Research has indicated that diets high in refined carbohydrates and dairy can increase your chances of all types of acne. It has also shown that vitamin D can benefit skin, but it’s always a good idea to consult with a health care professional before taking any supplements.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.